Day 17 – Esau I Hated?

Well, I found myself drawn back to Genesis today (33:1-34:31).

Not the nasty account where Jacob’s sons deliver death to Dinah’s rapist.

But the nice account where Jacob and Esau meet.

After chapter upon chapter of double-dealing and deception in the family, here comes Esau. Frankly, I was shocked to see the contrast between Jacob (the chosen) and Esau (the forsaken).

Esau looked a whole lot more like Jesus than Jacob did.

You may recall that Esau bought Jacob’s birthright for a meal, then obtained Isaac’s blessing through a lie. In other words, Jacob stole Esau’s place as first-born son.  In doing so, Jacob gained the covenant promise of blessing and land through Abraham’s (and now his) descendants.

So when Jacob, all grown up, realizes he will soon encounter Esau, all grown up, he panics. He figures Esau will have it out for him.

So he sends ahead waves of gifts to appease big brother.

And once he encounters Esau, Jacob and his family hit the ground in bows of submission. Jacob then repeatedly hails Esau as “my lord” while referring to himself “servant.”

I’m shocked that one of my Bibles labels this section “Jacob Shows His Bravery?” Was that sarcasm or stupidity on the part of the editor?

So, what does Esau do when he sees Jacob? Kill him and plunder his goods?

Not.

No, the second he saw his younger brother:

… Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33: 4, NIV)

Sound familiar? It did to me. That’s exactly what the father did when he welcomed home the prodigal son in Luke 15:20! In fact, some commentators believe Jesus drew on this story for that famed parable of grace.

On top of the gracious welcome, Esau tries to return Jacob’s gifts and then extends hospitality to his brother, despite Jacob’s earlier treachery.

I was pretty well blown over by Esau’s unconditional love in this passage.

So why did God “love Jacob and hate Esau?”

Those verbs contrast God’s choice to bless one family and not the other – to continue the Abrahamic covenant through Israel’s descendants.  And as Paul argues in Romans 9: 10-13, that choice certainly had nothing to do with either Jacob or Esau’s works.

Another thing strikes me. In that same part of Romans (9:6b-7), Paul indicates that true members of Israel are not necessarily the physical descendants of Abraham (and Jacob), but the spiritual ones.

And based on Esau’s Christlike display of unmerited grace towards Jacob, I have a hunch he is a member of spiritual Israel.

Readings: Genesis 33:1-34:31, Psalm 9:1-6, Proverbs 3:21-26, Matthew 12:1-21  See About for what I’m up to with these daily posts.

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2 thoughts on “Day 17 – Esau I Hated?

  1. The whole thing is pretty fascinating. Jacob says Esau’s face is like God’s, too. I am sure the Israelites who heard the Prodigal Son knew this story. Was Jesus saying that Israel is represented in different ways by the younger, prodigal son and the older, legalistic son? So why does Esau play the father in the story? If I had more time, I’d check it out….

  2. It’s interesting that Esau becomes Edom, one of the enemies of later Israel.

    I hadn’t noticed the parallel of this story with the prodigal son — thanks for pointing that out.

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